Martha Karua’s profile as the iron lady
Martha Karua is unarguably the most famous female personality in the country and her stab for the presidency might not necessarily be the reason why. She has been the Member of Parliament for Gichugu constituency since 1992 when she left her active career as an advocate to join politics. In her two decade long career, she has created a reputation of a combative legislator who will not take any confrontation lying down.
Karua is currently the only female presidential candidate in a field of 14 aspirants for the office. At 54 years of age, she has distinguished herself as a lone ranger when it comes to critical issues she believes strongly about. That has earned her tags such as ‘the only man in Kibaki’s cabinet’ and ‘the iron lady.’ One could easily characterize her as either radical or principled depending on their standpoint.
She has never shied away from making radical decisions in her career and at no other time has this been more evident than when she was appointed one of Kibaki’s emissaries to the panel of eminent personalities during the infamous Serena talks in 2008. Karua was one of Kibaki’s aides who took hard-line positions and maintained that Kibaki won the 2007 elections fare and square and that ODM should seek redress from the courts had they had a legitimate claim to victory.
When the accord was finally signed in February, Karua was so disappointed that things did not go her way that she boycotted the event. Kibaki and Raila had decided to share power and bring to an end a protracted period of stalled negotiations that caused anxiety in the country. She opposed the deal despite the fact that the country’s salvation from anarchy was firmly hinged on the power sharing agreement.
She later resigned from Kibaki’s government in 2009 for what she claimed was interference with her work from the former’s cronies. She had been appointed Minister for Justice and constitutional Affairs, a portfolio she held from 2005.
In 2001, she was the only member of the opposition who remained in Parliament when all her colleagues walked out in protest, to voice her objection formally to a Constitution Review Bill which the opposition and civil society deemed unfavorable. She preferred to put her objection on record rather than walking out since she felt it was her prerogative as an elected MP to represent her people.
More recently, Martha Karua openly declared that she will not accept her salary as a member of parliament should the term of the current parliament exceed its expiry date this year to extend to March next year. Karua has been uncompromising in her assertion that the general elections should be held in December despite a court ruling indicating that it would still be legal to hold elections in 2013. According to the new constitution promulgated in August 2010, elections should be held in August this year but because of logistical reasons, they cannot be held any earlier than December or March next year.
Karua is also credited with championing for women’s rights during her career, a role for which she got an award from the Federation of Kenya Women Lawyers (FIDA) in 1995. She was also among the few brave members of the activist fraternity during KANU’s authoritarian rule in the early 90s who fought for the return of multiparty democracy to the country.
The mother of two is the most vocal and active member of the back bench in parliament contributing to debate in the house and influencing the direction of important discussions there. During her time as a minister in Kibaki’s government, she was also the most potent defender of the president and government in general.
Despite her ‘tough’ reputation, she is also very approachable and down-to-earth. She will join a dance when she attends events where traditional dances are performed and mingle with her supporters in person. She once confessed on an interview with Drum magazine that she loves dancing as a hobby and for fitness purpose.
She comes off as trendy as well considering that she is an active owner of vibrant twitter and Facebook accounts. She uses the internet as a major rallying call for her presidential campaign. Her website joinmarthakarua.com has a huge Facebook following in excess of 173, 750 likes. She however ranks dismally in opinion polls.
If Martha Karua manages against all odds to become the next president of Kenya, she will join the likes of Ellen Sirleaf Johnson of Liberia, Joyce Banda of Malawi, Dilma Vana Rousseff of Brazil, Pratibha Patil of India, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner of Argentina and 15 other female heads of state and governments in the world. In 2012 alone, five female presidents have assumed office from around the world in what is turning out to be increasing confidence from the world in the ability of women to lead.
Karua’s Party, Narc Kenya is yet to fully consolidate its support in every corner of the country but its popularity is steadily rising. Jitokeze for a better Kenya is her clarion call but ‘will the beckoned heed?’ is the ambiguous question.